Tag Archives: Quebec

Québec Quests

Wednesday 21 September 2022 – Our second and final day in Québec dawned fine and sunny (according to the UK Met Office) or at least not raining (according to looking out of the hotel window). Given that it’s such a historic, individual and photogenic city, we felt we had to get out and explore; Jane had some specific sights she wanted to see as part of any wanderings on our part. To aid us in our quest to find out more about the place, we joined another “free” walking tour, this one led by Sam

who described himself as having a beard and a sense of humour – accurate in both cases, as it turns out. He was full of knowledge and amusing ways of putting stories across, often referring to the city’s official motto – “Je me souviens” – I remember.

To start with, we had to find Sam. The appointed meeting place was the fountain by the national assembly building

to reach which we walked up Rue St-Louis, which is an attractive street

containing the city’s oldest house

and its own city gate.

(not the original one – Sam explained that originally there was a much narrower opening, as befits a gate designed to restrict city access. After the British defeated the French here in 1759, they bolstered the defences in order (successfully) to resist the subsequent French siege. The city walls were saved from destruction in the late 19th century by the then Governor General of Canada, Lord Dufferin, who was enough of a visionary to realise the value of future tourism and so had the walls preserved and the gates widened to open the city to visitors). The fortifications, along with the rest of Old Québec, were designated an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985 and remain the only intact fortified colonial settlement in North America north of Mexico.

The National Assembly building has several statues in niches all over its façade. Sam identified two of them.

On the left – General Wolfe, the winner of the British fight for Quebec; on the right, the Marquis de Montcalm. History is written by the victors, and it’s unusual, and rather refreshing, to see any recognition on historic buildings of the people who came second. I think this is possibly a reflection of the thoughtful approach that Canadians seem to take to many aspects of life.

Sam is obviously a film buff, as he referred to a couple of films during his tour. One of them was “Catch Me If You Can“, a caper in which Tom Hanks tries to nab Leonardo DiCaprio as he blags his way across the world. The other was an Alfred Hitchcock thriller called “I confess“, about the dilemma facing a priest who receives confession from a murderer. Sam showed us the actual house where the “murder” was committed, something other guided tours don’t cover.

The current occupant of the house is clearly familiar with Sam leading tours past his house, as he came to the window and waved to us all.

Our tour then passed between two libraries – a modern one housed in an old French church and an old one housed in a more modern building which was originally a gaol.

Passing the Clarendon hotel, a building on a site with history that goes back as far as 1685, and is thus far older than the ancient-looking Chateau Frontenac

our next stop was at the Town Hall.

It’s a very imposing building, and doubtless Sam dispensed some interesting nuggets about it; but I became fascinated by its fountains.

After this, we headed (past a building with a very bizarre artwork attached to it)

towards Old Québec,

which is (a) historic, (b) photogenic and (c) contains many of the things Jane wanted to see. These included the “Breakneck Steps”, the city’s oldest steps, so called because they were once rather rickety as well as steep;

then round the corner to this:

which, presented as above (with some photoshoppery), looks like a city scene, but is actually the Québec city mural, telling the story of Québec;

indigenous artwork in a street off Place Royale;

and another wonderful building-side mural

(again, here, with image manipulated – it really looks as below).

The whole area is desperately photogenic

and gives what Sam asserts is the best view of the Chateau Frontenac – and who am I to argue?

Trees in the above photo actually hide the Funicular, which people can use to travel up to the hotel square if they are prepared to pay the 4 CAD fare.

The Place Royal features the outline of where the first building in Québec stood

and Sam pointed out that this was where Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio actually stood during the filming of “Catch Me If You Can“. Just round the corner is the ultimate Selfie Spot,

where one can ruin a perfectly decent city scene by appearing in it, on the Old City Centre Swing. There are any number of photo opportunities around this part, and the place really, really feels like Paris.

It isn’t, of course, but is often used in films to portray France. In the above, the piano accordion is actually an electronic instrument and you can’t move far without the smell of popcorn pervading the air – giveaways that you’re not in France after all. (Another one is the ubiquity of tin roofs; in France, lead is more commonly used.)

That ended Sam’s entertaining and informative tour, so we headed back up to the hotel up the

172 steps you need to climb.

For once, instead of eating at the hotel, good as its meals are, we had booked an early dinner outside, at a place recommended by Ian Burley called Le Hobbit. The restaurant is in Rue St-Jean, which gave us an opportunity to walk to it past the Observatoire de la Capitale, which is on the 31st floor of a building next to the National Assembly. So once again we headed up Rue St-Louis, pausing to take a photo of Churchill and Roosevelt

(these sculptures celebrating their meeting here in 1943 to plan the D-Day Landings) and found our way to the top of the Observatoire building. One needs to book, and, helpfully, there’s a QR code on the ground floor for paying one’s entrance. But we didn’t have internet access, and it needed help from a sympa young chap who was guarding the Observatoire on the top floor to help us pay our entrance fees. That achieved, we had a few minutes to wander the four sides of the Observatoire, looking at the views of the city around us.

Then we crossed to Rue St-Jean, which is jolly picturesque,

includes the Church of St. John the Baptist which gives the street its name

and has some interesting shop windows.

We had a very good meal at Le Hobbit (thanks, Ian). Then we wandered back to the hotel in the gathering gloom, via the Old Town, to see if it was as picturesque at night as it is during the day.

This signalled the end of our time in Québec, as we had to be ready to catch an earlyish train to Montréal the next morning. It would have been nice to have had more time to explore – a lesson learned for future holidays of the pith and moment of this one – but it was lovely to have seen what we did. Jane thought that maybe it was just a little bit too picture perfect, but I loved the place. Maybe we’ll be back; who knows? But tomorrow is onward! to Montréal, so please come back to see what we made of things there.

Anne Interesting Tour

Tuesday 20 September 2022 – The weather forecast for the day was gloomy, and the reality out of our hotel window

didn’t give huge cause for elation.  So, by an accident of fate, our plan to be on a bus for most of the day looked pretty sound.  There was a little uncertainty about precisely where the bus would stop, as a result of which we failed to be first on it and therefore to get the prime seats at the front of the upper deck.  This was a little bit of a shame, as the front windows actually boasted windscreen wipers, and so would have been clear for taking photos.

The driver, Dan, gave an interesting and folksy commentary as we went along and we tried to grab photos of the things he was talking about – never easy on a reasonably swift-moving bus on a rainy day, but one or two are worth sharing.

The route went north-east from Québec City, along the north coast of the St. Lawrence river.  This is the area where original settlers, erm, settled, and it seems that it took a few years for them to find the best area: at first they made homes on the banks of the St. Lawrence, but these got washed away by the unexpectedly high tides; so the next attempt was on top of the cliffs that bordered the river, but these were subject to the  bitterly cold north-easterly winds; finally, the best location turned out to be at the foot of the cliffs, out of the reach of the tides and sheltered from the winds.

By this stage, the settlers had learned about the potentially 12 feet of snow that could be expected during the winter, and so the houses tended to have steps up to the entrances.  We tried to catch some pictures of these houses as we went by.


On thing that we noticed was the colour of the roofs, many of which were (like that church spire I mentioned in my last post) silver in colour.  It turns out that these are tin, chosen because it is reasonably long-lasting and also fire-resistant.  Many have brightly-coloured roofs.

The reason for this is historical, as there’s no real need for the colour now.  But in the days of the original settlers, with houses relatively few and far between and 12 feet of snow on the ground in winter, the coloured roof was perhaps the only landmark a person could see.  The house in the photo immediately above features a “spring kitchen” – a place where folk could gather as the weather broke after winter, to celebrate the arrival of spring.

Houses that were farms tended to a strip of land that stretched back to the banks of the river – that way it was easy to understand land ownership.  Some of the farm houses are very handsome

and some of the older buildings show , from the reduced height of the door, that people weren’t as tall then (late 16h and 17th century) as they are today – perhaps as much as a foot shorter on average.

The tour made its first stop in St-Anne-deBeaupré, a small town of perhaps 3,000 souls, but home to an astonishing Basilica.  The first church was built by sailors, seeking protection against shipwrecks off Ile-Oeuf on their way upriver to Quebec City (Saint Anne, the mother of the Virgin Mary, is the patron saint of sailors).  But the church has grown and grown, and has a reputation similar to that of Lourdes as a place for the sick to come on a pilgrimage and be cured.

It is huge

and ornate, both outside

and inside.

The doors are covered in beautiful copper, both outside

and in.

and there are extraordinary stacks of crutches and other mobility aids

which have been left here by people who have been cured of their illnesses.

There are no fewer than three other religious establishments immediately around the Basilica,

a couple of churches and, above, a commemorative chapel  of the third church.   On the gentle slopes of the hillside behind the chapel and beside the Santa Scala pictured above it are twelve bronze statues of the Stations of the Cross.

All in all, it is clear that Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré is a very significant religious centre.  There’s something excitingly called a Cyclorama

which is not, after all, a wall of death for daredevil motorbikers to whizz round, but actually a 365-ft representation in the round of Christ’s crucifixion – sadly closed since the pandemic and not yet re-opened.

After this stop, we retraced our journey back towards Quebec City. Driver Dan described the next stop as a “Copper Shop” and I wondered why we would visit a police station.  At first, it seemed merely the sort of retail opportunity that is often an unwelcome intrusion into a tour, as we were ushered into the lobby lined with works of art made from copper.  I was wrong to misjudge it, though.  We were at Cuivres d’Art Albert Gilles Boutique et Musée. Our group was given a short demonstration of how sheet copper can be transformed into a work of art.

although what we saw was a mere illustration using thin sheet metal; the real material is five times as thick and takes real skill, dedication and time to make into a final sculpture.

The studio, which was started by Albert Gilles who has passed the flame to daughter and grand-daughter, also hosted an exhibition, including Albert’s work to create silver representations of the life of Christ,

a project which took him 15 years, as well as some other lovely items.

The key thing that prevented this from being an unwelcome attempt to sell us stuff came with the knowledge, imparted by Madame, that Albert Gilles had created the copper doors for the Basilica at Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré (along with work at some 60 other churches).  We left with a great, erm, impression of the man, his work and his art.

We next stopped at the Montmorency Falls.   These are 83 metres high, thus higher than Niagara, although not as powerful.

The falls are impressive enough from ground level, but one can reach the top for a different viewpoint.  You have a choice: walk up steps to the right of the falls as you look at them – 487 steps, we’re told, since we didn’t take this option (not enough time) – or a cable car to the left, which is quicker, less work but costs more.

The cable car is unique in my experience in two ways: the cars are clamped to the cable and it’s the cable that moves; and each car is clamped to two cables, which (obviously) both move. From the top of the cable car, you go past Montmorency Pavilion

and can take a couple of viewpoints, the better of which is ruined, in my photography-solipsistic world, by zipwire cables spoiling the view.  There’s a suspension bridge across the falls, which is quite exciting.  On the left from this viewpoint you can see the steps which hardy souls can climb and which would probably give the most satisfying viewpoint.

In the distance, in the upper of these two pictures, you can see a much larger suspension bridge. This leads to – indeed is the only road access to – the Île-d’Orléans, which is where we headed next.

This island is home mainly to farms, as building regulations forbid the creation of any other kind of industrial construction.  It produces mainly fruit and vegetables – strawberries, apricots, potatoes and apples. There’s a 9-hole golf course, a couple of churches and a decent selection of very handsome (and expensive, obvs) homes.  There’s a Nougaterie, and a blackcurrant farm, Cassis Monna & Filles, which Ian Burley recommends for its gin, but rather than go there, we ended up at a chocolate shop, right at the western point of the island, where you can actually see back over to Québec.

If you look carefully, you can even see the central tower of our hotel, just above the left-hand cruise ship.

The chocolate shop is very obviously a popular place for tours

but we resisted the urge to dash in and stuff our faces.  Instead, since this was the last stop of the tour and we were back at the hotel shortly afterwards, we headed to a hotel restaurant called Sam (for reasons we discovered the next day) where, by virtue of force of personality, or perhaps just plain luck, we just managed to squeeze in for a late, and very good, lunch and a couple of cold, and very welcome, drinks.

Was this a “Fabulous Country Tour”?  Well, not really – and of course the dull weather didn’t help – but it was interesting and we learned quite a lot about early settlers; and the Basilica was a truly remarkable place.  We enjoyed the day and could now look forward to our second and final day in Québec.  The weather outlook was rather better, so we could expect to have a good chance to explore this fascinating city in more detail.  Do come back and find out, won’t you?


Crossing a qulture qhasm

Monday September 19 2022 – The day started and ended with something warm and familiar – a Nice Cup Of Tea (Twinings Earl Grey, courtesy of St. Lawrence Market in Toronto). In between those comforting landmarks, there was a distinct culture shift as we headed to Québec City.

The Via Rail experience was broadly similar to that of our journey into Ottawa:  masks were required at all times in station and train, unless actually eating or drinking (even between sips of a drink, according to the stern-sounding MC shortly after we set off); food and drink were served at our comfortable seats; power and WiFi were available throughout the journey; and we arrived about half an hour late.  The differences were subtle, though marked:  the ham and omelette served for breakfast were both very odd creations; the WiFi worked for some websites (including, fortunately, this one) but not others (including my banking app, so I couldn’t check on whether the Ottawa hotel had really given us free internet access); and our suitcases were checked in, rather than accompanying us in the carriage. Oh, and the weather wasn’t all that brilliant, either, but then we were on a train, so didn’t really mind.

On the journey, Jane saw more churches with what looked like silver spires

(reminiscent of Notre Dame in Ottawa). The explanation will be forthcoming tomorrow, by the way, so please continue to pay attention.

But then we arrived in Québec city, and it was obvious that we had qrossed a qultural qhasm: we might as well have been in Paris.  The atmospheric change affected the passengers, whose previous orderly behaviour descended into an amorphous mob grabbing at their luggage as it came off the baggage car; initial signs directing passengers to taxis evaporated, leaving those in need of transport baffled as to where to go; a young lady at an “information” desk couldn’t be arsed to do more than hold up a piece of paper with a taxi phone number on it; and the taxi rank (once we discovered it, indicated by a scruffy and not very prominent sign attached crookedly to a lamppost hidden behind a construction site) was devoid of taxis. After all the orderly, North American and well-organised travels of the last six weeks, it was a distinctly European experience.

Eventually, taxis started appearing and the ragged queue that had rather grudgingly formed with a puzzled expression on its collective face, started being transported to its destinations. The sophistication of the local taxi network was laid bare as our taxi driver stopped at one point to shout at another taxi that he should go to the station as it was “plein” (full), and reinforced as he explained that he’d prefer us to pay cash – the first time we had actually had to use Canadian banknotes in a month and a half. Oh, how we chuckled!

The Parisian feel continued as we arrived at our hotel (yet another Fairmonster, the Chateau Frontenac)

whose front yard was littered with vehicles (Gawd alone knows how our taxi driver got out). Once inside, we had a choice of what might or might not have been three separate queues, any of which might or might not have led to a point where we might or might not have been able to check in, amid scenes of fairly voluble and rather unco-ordinated discussions going on all around us.  We took the only course of action one can under these circumstances, which is to stand separately in two of the least unpromising-looking queues, ready to spring to the other in case it was a more effective choice.  In the end, and completely by accident, I won.  I saw a couple of people apparently jump all of the available queues and decided that I should follow this very Parisian example; it turned out that they’d found the Fairmont Loyalty Card queue and since I have an Accor membership I was able to find someone prepared to help us.

Once that had happened, everything proceeded a lot more smoothly.  We got a nice room (rather reminiscent of Jane’s Parisian garret apartment of 30 years ago) on the seventh floor, and the last Parisian snook cocked at us was that we were charged by a hotel room service jobsworth for some milk for the cup of tea we were really in need of by this stage. This is our eighth Fairmont; none of the previous seven have cavilled at simply – and freely – helping out a couple of Brits in pitiful need of tea. But we were now in logical Paris, so not only were we charged for a glass of milk, but, of course, there was a delivery cost added to the bill.


It was late afternoon by this stage and so we decided to go for a walk. Obviously.  We (broadly) followed a recommendation from Ian Burley (you’ll remember – of course! – that we met him as we walked around Menorca a year ago) for a stroll around parts of the city.  The walk started on the terrace outside the hotel

which also gives an opportunity to see quite what a monster the hotel is.  The terrace is a pleasant boardwalk in a nice environment

with the occasional surprise, like this toboggan run (winters only, of course)

and, at the end, a really quite substantial set of steps up to Quebec’s Citadel.

Our route took us across the Plains of Abraham (no, not that one, actually; more likely a Scottish fisherman who came here early in the 17th century) which were the scene of a battle between perfidious Albion and those diabolical Frenchies in 1759 as the two nations struggled for control of an extremely important strategic location.  Then we went past the National Assembly building

(very imposing, and much more pleasant on the eye than the government buildings opposite),

and one of the historic gates into the city (St. Louis Gate).

It was almost impossible for me to shake off the feeling of being in Paris.  On one side of the street you could find a charming row of houses and brasseries,

and, directly opposite, great brutalist slabs of masonry;

inexplicable bits of statuary;

attempts to disguise, with a mural

a ghastly block of modern masonry;

and some really charming buildings.

We ended up walking along the Rue St. Jean, sadly by now in the dark, as it looks like it would be really interesting to see in the daylight, past the building site outside the cathedral and back towards the hotel. Québec is clearly going to be an interesting place to look around

despite the appalling solecism of having a Christmas Shop.

This was one of the giveaways that we were not, actually, in Paris; the other was that walking along Rue St. Jean was accompanied by the smells emanating from innumerable popcorn and ice-cream parlours – an ineluctable part of being anywhere near retail establishments in North America.

All in all, it was a pleasant and interesting introduction to somewhere which clearly has a great deal of historical interest to accompany its undoubted charm.  We will hardly scratch the surface in our forthcoming two days here, but it’ll be nice to aim for some degree of insight.

Tomorrow, we are promised, on our itinerary, “A Fabulous Country Tour” and, by the weather forecast, wind and rain.  Who knows how it will go?  Answer: you will, but only if you check back in to these pages to find out.